Guerrilla Brightenings, Joanna Nissel
Against the Grain Poetry Press, 2022 £6.00
Brightened with colour
Colour features strongly in Guerrilla Brightenings. The first poem, ‘Hove Lawns to Brighton Pier – March’, opens delicately:
and every morning the beach
the dawn pale as pink innards of seashells
getting earlier now
And the third stanza has:
the pebbles in taupe and ivory and charcoal
and some almost mustard as the sun rises
Later in the poem, the ocean is first ‘jade’ and then, when the tide turns, ‘becomes glassy and oh the blue blue the blue of it’. The poet recounts the way the light changes in ‘It’s the only time I see them’: ‘from fragile pinks, pale blues to brash cerulean and shamrock lawns’.
A ‘master of rigs’ influenced the poet’s father and we hear of ‘guerrilla brightenings’ in ‘The Long Man of Wilmington’:
Skinny light-man master of rigs
he infiltrated forests lined the branches
with fairy lights tubes of colour devils saints
Nissel offers the worlds of David Bowie, and Noel Fielding in the prose poem ‘Did I Say Starlight?’: ‘a land of discoballs and rainbow shards’. By way of contrast to that urban tone, the poem that follows, ‘Look at Me’, sees a relationship through the medium of an orchid, describing a bud as:
A knuckle of a thing, tiny,
barely a suggestion of green.
That poem’s final image is vivid:
I thought of how thrilled you’d have been
of the shock of cerise in each centre,
like the bright silk lining of a twill coat.
Other visually-striking images include Anne Boleyn’s ‘Shivering grey velvet’ in ‘Time Travel’, and the ‘burnt umber of red helianthus’ in ‘On rediscovering a favourite dress’. In the final poem, ‘Hove Lawns to Portslade — April’, the poet returns to the beach setting of the first poem. This time kayaks and canoes are ‘glazed bright as boiled sweets’. The reader shares the moment of being bathed in light:
I need to turn back Oh give me five more minutes
in this glorious light I was not prepared
for a love like this
Colour permeates this pamphlet and really lit up my enjoyment of the poems.